computer/microsoftwirelessdesktop.jpgA good keyboard can make a big difference in your everyday computing life. Certainly the keyboard you received with your computer is adequate, but there are alternatives that offer more comfort and convenience. If you compare the computer keyboard to an average automobile like a Honda or a Buick, then the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Keyboard is truly the Cadillac of keyboards.

The package includes the Wireless Comfort Keyboard, a Wireless Optical Mouse, a receiver that plugs into the computer using the regular PS/2 keyboard port or a USB port, and the necessary batteries.

The Wireless Comfort Keyboard is not split nor does it have the highly angled keys that are the hallmarks of ergonomic keyboards. Because so many users resisted the learning curve associated with traditional ergonomic keyboards, Microsoft created a flat keyboard that is ergonomically designed. Though the keys are not raised, there are obvious differences in this keyboard. The keys are slightly angled, putting your wrists in a more comfortable typing position. Some of the keys are larger and some are smaller than the average keyboard. Also, the keys on the bottom row are curved. At first glance, I thought this would make it more difficult to type. I was wrong. The size, placement, and curvature of the keys made typing very easy and comfortable. I also found the cushioned palm rest very supportive. It is made of a soft blackleather-like material that extends the entire width of the keyboard.

The keyboard and mouse work immediately after you plug them in. I was surprised to find that they worked even before I unplugged my old keyboard and mouse. This could be a convenient feature for households where there are two computer users with different preferences in keyboards. You will need to install the included IntelliType and IntelliPoint software in order to use the extra buttons on the keyboard and have full functionality of all the extra features available on the keyboard and mouse. The software installation was smooth and easy.

The extra features on this keyboard are numerous and I found most of them very useful. The left hand side of the keyboard has five customizable keys. While they are marked “Web/Home”, “Calendar”, “Mail”, “Messenger”, and “My Documents”, they can be used for any programs and/or files that you choose. I immediately changed the “My Documents” button to go to the folder where I keep all my writing projects.  There are also five customizable “My Favorites” buttons on the top of the keyboard, which can go to your favorite places. I immediately changed these to go to the AARP Computers & Technology Web site, the CompuKISS Web site, and three other favorites.

The Comfort Keyboard also has volume controls and media player controls. All of the extra features and buttons are well designed and well thought out. Each set of buttons has a different shape and color, which make them easier to locate quickly. The “My Favorites” set of buttons has an additional small button that can be used to reset your choices without opening up the software. The function keys have also been given special functionality. They are marked with common tasks like Undo and Redo, New, Open, and Close, and Reply, Forward, and Send.  There is also an F lock key that can be used to toggle between the original functionality and the newly assigned functions of these keys.

The left side of the keyboard also has a compact, but easily accessible slider that allows you to use the zoom feature when viewing digital photos and documents. The right side of the keyboard sports three small keys that can bring up a calculator, log you off, or put the computer into sleep mode.

The included smart receiver comes with software that will notify you when there is interference from other wireless devices such as a cordless phone. It also tells you when the mouse or keyboard is not receiving a strong signal and prompts you with ideas to correct the situation. Even when I used the keyboard and mouse in close proximity to other wireless devices, I never found any interference. At one time, however, I was prompted to move the receiver closer to the mouse to get a better signal.

I had a love-hate relationship with the Wireless Optical Mouse. I love many of the features. The Tilt Wheel Technology incorporated in the Wireless Optical Mouse is great.  It lets you scroll to the left and right by pushing the wheel in that direction. The scrolling is smoother than any other mouse I’ve tried. By holding down the scroll wheel you can toggle between open windows. The mouse also has three programmable buttons. The optical qualities give the mouse better accuracy and tracking. But I hated the position of the buttons on the mouse. The buttons are slightly smaller and do not extend as far back on the mouse surface as the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer that I usually use. Because my hands are small, I could not press the buttons with my hand on the desktop, as I would normally position it. I had to have the palm of my hand on the mouse itself and I found that uncomfortable. Others in my office who tried the mouse did not have this problem illustrating that the size of your hands can make a difference in mouse comfort.

Microsoft says that their new optical technology gives these products as much as three times more battery life than that of competing products. While I was unable to test this claim, it sounds like the battery life of these products will be more than adequate.

This keyboard is called The Comfort Keyboard for good reason. It allows for natural hand and wrist positioning, making typing more comfortable than most other flat keyboards. Microsoft will also have a similar keyboard that will have a fingerprint reader built in to make passwords passé.  It will be a part of the package called Microsoft Optical Desktop with Fingerprint Reader. With all the new features and the excellent design, these new Microsoft keyboards are definitely worth considering.



Manufacturer:  Microsoft

Price:  $84.95